Environmental Impacts of Renewable Energy

For years, humans have relied on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels and coal as our sole sources of energy. While they have proved to be incredibly effective, they have also taken a massive toll on the environment, emitting harmful gas that has been linked to global warming.

This has caused researchers to seek out other energy forms that would bring less harm to the environment and sustainability. Fortunately, renewable energy sources that utilise natural resources like the sun, wind, water etc., have been discovered. While this approach is without a doubt cleaner and more sustainable, there is no form of energy generation that does not have some impact on our environment.

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Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, impacts our environment in different ways and intensities and is dependent on factors like geographical location, technology etc. To avoid destroying the planet further, we must understand the environmental impact of renewable energy and take adequate steps to prevent and minimise them.

So, here is a rundown of renewable energy sources and how they affect our environment:

Solar Power

The sun is a constant source of heat, which has been existing since the beginning of our universe. It is an inexhaustible natural resource that has led to the development of solar power.

Solar power harnesses energy from the sun to generate clean and sustainable electricity. Solar plants and panels provide an incredible amount of clean energy, and they are gradually becoming prevalent as many people across the globe now use them in their homes.

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However, environmental impacts from solar power may include habitat loss, hazardous manufacturing materials, land use, significant water use for coolants, etc. Nevertheless, the gravity of this impact is dependent on the type of technology used and the scale of the system.

Wind Power

Utilising power from the wind is one of the cleanest forms of energy generation as it is inexhaustible, abundant, and produces no toxic emissions or byproducts to the environment.

The wind is also predictable, and the average wind turbine can last at least 20 years, making this approach a cost-effective and large-scale alternative to renewable energy sources. It is currently being used in a lot of countries, with incredible success.

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While wind power clearly has a potential far greater than its coal and fossil fuel predecessors, it poses a challenge to wildlife and habitat as wind turbines must be used on cleared land. It also causes land use issues and noise pollution.

Biomass Energy

Electricity is generated from biomass power plants by burning feedstocks. These feedstocks could be manure, urban waste, agricultural waste and forest products/waste.

However, they are quite similar to fossil fuel power plants as they involve combustion, which gives rise to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions. It is argued, though, that since these same plants absorb carbon dioxide, biomass can be seen as a carbon-neutral source of energy.

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Unfortunately, this argument does not cater to the greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and waste management problems that will arise from biomass energy.

The good news though is that all of these environmental impacts can be mitigated, making biomass energy a reliable and sustainable source of green energy.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy harnesses the power of the Earth to generate electricity. Geothermal power plants are built near geologic hotspots — areas where hot molten rocks are close to the Earth’s crust. The heat produces hot water, which is converted to steam through direct or flash or binary steam systems using cooling technologies. This process leads to the generation of electricity.

Geothermal energy is a sustainable and reliable energy source, but the problem arises when geothermal plants are built in areas that do not naturally have these hotspots.

Building a plant in these locations means drilling into the surface of the Earth to access deeper geothermal resources. This poses a serious problem as increased drilling activity will lead to an increased geothermal activity which will become dangerous for people living in that environment.

Hydroelectric Power

As the name suggests, hydroelectric power generates energy by using water from hydroelectric dams or small run-of-the-river plants.

It uses water in motion that possesses kinetic energy to turn the blades of a turbine to generate electricity. Today, countries like Brazil and China are already building massive hydroelectric dams.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

However, this approach to energy generation would lead to a significant impact on wildlife. Particularly those that rely on water bodies for water, food and habitat.

Conclusion

Despite these environmental impacts, renewable energy is still, without a doubt, the best alternative to non-renewable energy sources. They play a core role in solving climate change and saving our planet. With the right technology and techniques, these implications can be avoided or mitigated.

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PAM Africa

PAM Africa

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Improving the lives of Africans by providing quality energy access